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Simpson has reasons to smile

Webb Simpson had little beads of sweat on his red cheeks Saturday afternoon to go with the smile on his face.

The second-round leaders in the U.S. Open were still breaking their own sweat early in the third round while Simpson had done a good day’s work, cobbling together a 2-under par 68 that left him at 3-over for the championship, close enough to spend Saturday night and Sunday morning thinking about what could be.

Simpson has the essentials for major championship golf. He doesn’t overpower courses but he plays to his strengths, which include an attitude almost as sunny as Saturday on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It’s not fair to call Simpson a plodder, almost a term of endearment when it comes to U.S. Open styles, but he knows how to grind, which is the currency of our national golf championship.

For two days, Simpson chased his game around Olympic, edging on to the bottom of the leader board for a time Friday before the inevitable speckling of bogeys backed him off the board. On Saturday, he started with a birdie at the 520-yard par-4 first hole – pure gold – and kept rolling.

“At a U.S. Open, to shoot under par, you have to have things go your way,” Simpson said. “That’s what happened (Saturday) and I made the par putts and a couple of birdie putts. I feel like I shot 10-under and I shot 2-under. (It’s) just a good feeling to shoot under par in the U.S. Open.”

Simpson had a good pairing with fellow Charlottean Robert Karlsson. They chatted during the round about places to eat at home and in San Francisco, and made other small talk when they weren’t busy doing their difficult work.

“I don’t see him a lot in Charlotte. We had a good time together,” Simpson said.

This is a welcome return to form for Simpson, who is making only his third start since taking the lead into the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club, his home course, and finishing fourth. He missed the cut at The Players Championship and The Memorial. If it was an emotional carryover from his run at Wells Fargo, Simpson isn’t sure.

Regardless, he’s not accustomed to tournament weekends off.

This week, Simpson and his wife, Dowd, are staying at the Fairmont in San Francisco, a 20-minute drive from the golf course. They’re on their own, leaving their young son at home with his grandparents. It’s the last weekend Dowd can travel, as the birth of their second child approaches.

More than seven months pregnant, she’s climbing the hills across which the golf course is laid and enjoying dinner dates with her husband in the evening. The baby is due in early August but, golf schedules being what they are, the Simpsons are hoping for an early arrival so Webb can play the World Golf Championship event at Firestone in early August.

It’s possible if he can duplicate Sunday what he did Saturday that Simpson could play there as U.S. Open champion. He planned to plot his strategy Saturday night when he knew exactly how he stood.

At a course that has done a good job of squeezing the enthusiasm out of so many players, Simpson looks forward to one more day wrestling the beast, admiring what he calls “the genius of the U.S. Open,” which is constructed to discourage players rather than encourage them.

Finished for the day, Simpson grabbed his wife’s hand and headed off, waiting for what Sunday may bring.